Name: Lauren Schingel
Hometown: Bloomington, Indiana
Nationality: United States
University: Indiana University Bloomington
Degree: Public Policy Analysis
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (advanced)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 1 week
Start month: January 2017
Claim to fame: Lauren is a seasoned international traveler and has previously volunteered in countries like Mexico, Ghana, South Korea and Rwanda. Fantastic work leading your Indiana University team, Lauren!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
My experience was not that of a typical UBELONG volunteer, so this question requires me to first answer why I decided to become an international volunteer in the first place. I am part of an organization at Indiana University called the Alternative Break Program. This club sends approximately ten groups of people on different service trips throughout America and the rest of the world during our school’s three main breaks- Thanksgiving, Winter, and Spring. I discovered this organization my Sophomore year at IU, and after falling in love with the people I met on my trip to Cape Coast, Ghana and the experience that the trip provided, I became a trip leader my junior year. Volunteering abroad provides so many invaluable experiences that you cannot get from anything else. You have the opportunity to immerse yourself in amazing cultures throughout the world while leaving a lasting impact on those around you. It truly is one of the most fulfilling things you can do.
Once I became a site leader, I was assigned an issue with which to work and a location – Cambodia. Following that, I had to find an appropriate organization with which my group could work. I received a recommendation for UBELONG from a colleague, and after a bit of research, I knew it was perfect for us. The backgrounds of the founders and organization were inspiring, their efforts were admirable, and their detailed efficiency made everything incredibly simple. I began to talk with a UBELONG mentor, who was extremely helpful and responsive throughout the entire planning process. Planning for one person is hard enough, but planning for ten requires an incredible partner, and my mentor was exactly that.
What did you take from the experience?
As I said before, this is an experience unlike any other. There are countless ways to learn and grow by participating in these programs, and I am happy to say I did exactly that through my experience. While I was only there for a week, I was able to learn so much about the culture of Cambodia simply through observation. The people, for example, are honestly some of the friendliest I have encountered. As you walk down the street, you are greeted by countless friendly and genuine faces- a concept fairly foreign to me. This alone opens you up to the amazing kindness that the world has to offer. During my stay, I also became more appreciative of the history of Cambodia and the work its citizens have had to accomplish to get where they are today. Cambodia has a tragic past, but the people have joined together to build up the country to where it is today. Seeing this in action and observing the people work together for the benefit of each other was incredibly inspiring.
As I left, I also began to think about how I can turn my experience around and continue to help others. Whether it be back in Cambodia, at school in Bloomington, or anywhere else in the world, I left with the knowledge that even after a small amount of time in someone’s life, you can create an enormous impact. After only a few days of volunteering in Phnom Penh, a student spent at least ten minutes working on a fellow volunteer’s phone trying to translate to us from Khmer that she loved us and wanted us to stay longer. It broke my heart to read it, but it gave me consolation to realize the effect we had on her. After my week in Cambodia, I knew that I had to do more- learn more, volunteer more, and work more to improve the lives of everyone that inhabits this planet.
Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you?
There was a little boy in one of my classes. He could not have been more than six years old, as he was one of the smallest in the class. He rarely spoke up during class or volunteered to participate in exercises, and when he did, he struggled to find the correct answers. I began to help him closely, and one day I went back to help him and I discovered him working on a drawing of a bird. He had tossed his other work aside and was completely fixated on his drawing. As I watched him, I noticed how detailed his technique was and how advanced it was for someone his age. It blew my mind to witness such true talent in someone who struggled so much in everything else.
Not everyone is going to succeed in the same things throughout life. I believe that part of life is about finding something you are truly passionate about and want to pursue for the rest of your life. Maybe this little boy will not end up pursuing art throughout his life, but it gave me comfort to see that he had found something he loved at such a young age.
In a sentence or less, how would you describe local life?
Hard-working people are cooperating with each other to improve the lives of not only themselves, but everyone around them.